Law enforcement recently made a significant bust in Oakland, uncovering a massive illegal cannabis grow operation with an estimated value of $36.9 million. The operation, led by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, yielded a staggering 41,082 cannabis plants and 1,841 pounds of processed cannabis.
“This marks one of the most substantial cannabis enforcement actions in terms of retail value in the Bay Area this year,” Janice Mackey, a spokesperson for Fish and Wildlife, said in an email to SFGate. During the operation, officers also confiscated three firearms.
While recreational and medical marijuana use is legal in California, it’s imperative for business owners to obtain the necessary licenses and permits for commercial cultivation. The Oakland facility targeted by the raid did not possess the proper cannabis licenses.
Illegal Market Continues to Thrive in California
Shockingly, the illegal cannabis market continues to flourish in California, even seven years after voters legalized recreational marijuana. Illicit cannabis sales in the state were estimated to have exceeded $8 billion last year, surpassing the $5.4 billion in legal sales, according to the San Francisco Standard. Large-scale illegal cannabis-growing facilities are routinely discovered in the Bay Area, particularly in Oakland and its adjacent suburbs.
In a similar operation in April 2023, authorities unearthed over $36 million worth of illegal cannabis at two separate locations in Oakland. Three months prior, in January, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office discovered nearly $34 million worth of cannabis at two different warehouses in Oakland.
In a recent press release, California’s Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) reported seizure of more than $101 million in illegal cannabis during the third quarter of 2023. They also seized 69 crime-linked firearms.
In the third quarter alone, authorities seized almost 100,000 cannabis plants and over 61,000 pounds of illegal cannabis. These numbers were accomplished despite serving 35% less search warrants in the quarter.
Authorities have “been focused on larger, outdoor cannabis operations that posed a significant threat to the environment and public safety,” Bill Jones, Chief of the Law Enforcement Division for DCC, said in the press release. “Many of these illegal cannabis operations are linked to organized crime, and in addition to threatening the environment and communities, the products of these operations pose a direct threat to consumer health and the stability of the legal cannabis market.”
There have been issues in other states, as well. Connecticut recently announced a program to attempt to slow the illegal cannabis market by offering a deal to bring illegal producers into the legal market.
The Dangers of Buying Illegal Cannabis
Jones hit upon one of the biggest issues about the illegal cannabis market – it produces products that have not been created under strict regulations and guidelines. That’s one of the ways that using illegal cannabis poses several significant dangers beyond its legal status. These risks stem from the lack of regulation, quality control and oversight.
Illegal cannabis is not subject to the same rigorous quality control standards as legal, regulated cannabis. This means that it may be contaminated with harmful substances like pesticides, mold, heavy metals or other toxins. Consuming contaminated cannabis can lead to serious health issues.
Also, in the illegal market, the potency of cannabis products can vary widely and may not be accurately labeled. This can lead to unpredictable effects, especially for inexperienced users or those seeking specific therapeutic benefits.
And while it’s the obvious point, it’s worth repeating that using illegal cannabis can result in legal penalties, including fines, probation or even imprisonment, depending on local laws.